The Miami Marlins have three outfield prospects whom they would like to see develop into Major League contributors. We already began discussing two of those players; Christian Yelich is the potential star of the group, while Marcell Ozuna holds a critical task of potentially locking up center field this season. The final tantalizing talent between the three of them is Jake Marisnick, who is currently ranked 65th in MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list.
Marisnick is your prototypical raw, toolsy prospect; he is a grab-bag of tools with a decent swing, developing power, and athleticism for days. But because he is so raw, he struggled last season under the weight of a Major League promotion and probably played himself out of a great chance to start the 2014 season in the big leagues. At the same time, there was a reason why he earned the promotion in the first place, as he had a stellar season in Double-A. So what is to be expected of this potential starting center fielder, and why is he a major key to success in 2014?
Why is Marisnick a Key to Success?
Marisnick's reason is very similar to that of Ozuna's. Witness from the article on Wednesday:
Ozuna is a prominent member of the future of this roster for two reasons. The more immediate one is that his development could lead to the center field position being resolved for the future.
Ozuna's offensive and defensive development are important, but his most important role may not even be at the position he will play next season. Ozuna holds special importance because of the Marlins' uncertain situation in right field. Since Miami failed to re-sign Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term extension, his future with the team is in grave doubt.
Marisnick holds the same role as Ozuna, because he is competing with Ozuna for the center field position in Miami. Marisnick has always held the edge because of his better prospect status, but Ozuna spent 200 plate appearances mostly holding his own and displayed the defense necessary to continue playing center field if the Marlins needed him to in 2014.
But because of the uncertainty regarding Giancarlo Stanton's future with this team, Marisnick's development is not some extraneous thing the team can simply shrug off. He is yet another in a long line of toolsy center fielders the Fish would like to have pan out, because it is very likely he would be in line for the center field job if the team trades Stanton in the next year or two. With Freddie Freeman's monster extension, a new contract is not in the cards and a deal seems inevitable. When that trade finally happens, there is a very good chance the Fish will turn to both Ozuna and Marisnick, with Marisnick's athleticism giving him the task of center field.
Thus, the reason why these two players are keys this season, even if one spends a majority of his time in Triple-A New Orleans, is that the future of the outfield is coming soon to Miami and will require both Ozuna and Marisnick.
Like Ozuna, however, Marisnick faces obstacles. For him, the challenge will be finding consistency and an approach at the plate that will not sink him versus Major League pitching. Last year, he swung at a lot of pitches; he hacked at 52.1 percent of them and 34.7 percent of them outside of the strike zone. Unlike Ozuna, he did not display any of the strong play that he showed in the minors earlier in the year, where he hit .294/.358/.502 (.391 wOBA). Like Ozuna, he was lacking in power, having hit only one home run in 118 plate appearances. But he also could not buy a hit for his Major League stretch, batting just .232 on balls in play. The good news is that, unlike the problem with Christian Yelich, Marisnick at least hit liners on 25 percent of his balls in play, suggesting that he ran into some bad luck in 2013 and should appear better this season.
Ozuna suffered an injury to finish off his season, and Marisnick will be recovering from one of his own. Ozuna's thumb surgery is not likely to affect him much further this season, but it remains to be seen if Marisnick's unforeseen meniscus injury will sap him of his athleticism. He is expected to be ready by the time Spring Training begins, but it just adds more questions to a player about whom we do not know much.
It is very likely that Marisnick, who failed at the big league level in a short stint last year, will begin the season in Triple-A New Orleans. How he fares in that offensive environment will go a long way to determining how the Marlins treat him in future seasons. With a Stanton trade likely coming and an uncertain figure in center field in Ozuna, a strong performance by Marisnick early in 2014 could leapfrog him into the starting lineup. If Ozuna struggles, Marisnick could be the featured man very shortly. But given what we have seen from the team's treatment of Cameron Maybin, Marisnick would likely have a very short leash and could be demoted back to the minors no matter how well he dominates down there.
The injury situation with Stanton is also a factor. Both Ozuna and Marisnick would likely get a chance to play an extended amount of time if Stanton goes on the disabled list, which at this point seems like a certainty.
How well will he do? Despite the continuously questionable peripherals, it would not surprise me to see Marisnick hit well in Triple-A, but that may be in spite of his paltry strikeout and walk rates rather than because of them. The key will be if Marisnick can improve on those numbers while maintaining his strong in-play results and develop his power. At this point, he is still too much of a blank slate to really expect anything concrete. The 2014 season should help in that regard.